After a few amazing days in Queenstown it was time for us to head south, to the Southland and Fiordland of New Zealand. We were quite excited about it since we had heard a lot about the south, but lord, we dreaded heading further south since it was getting colder, and colder, the southernmost we went. Actually, New Zealand is the southernmost country I’ve ever been to date; with the southernmost point being the Waipapa Point (Catlins).
Speaking of Waipapa Point; this was, in my opinion, one of the funnest “ill-timed” moments of the Stray Travel trip. And here, is where we discovered how winter weather in New Zealand can go from rainbows and puppies to evil witch-hunts in a matter of seconds. Yes, it is quite bitchy!
We headed out to the coast to see the breaking of the waves against the rocky shores, the seagulls, and the landscape in general, which is beautiful (as expected of New Zealand). We spent longer than expected, roaming aimlessly across the field and shore.
Weather, as we knew, was going to be hit and miss, so we had moments of beautiful sunshine followed by dark clouds – rinse and repeat. As it started to get cloudy, we decided to hop on the bus to move to Curio Bay, just a bit further down the road. Curio Bay is famous for its Petrified Forest and penguins. The Petrified Forest is not really a forest today, but a rocky coastline. This place, though, was a lush Jurassic Forest 180 million years ago. As trees fell down, they were slowly covered by the accumulating ground and sedimentation. Throughout the millions of years, these trees petrified underground, and as the coastline receded to where it is today, the petrified trees got exposed thanks to the erosion created by the strong wave action from the sea. Today, tree trunks, roots, and stumps lay engraved on the rocks along the shore; and it is quite fun to walk along the beach hunting for each exposed petrified tree. We were supposed to see penguins there too, but none graced us with their presence.
Our next scheduled stop was even further down the road to visit the lighthouse and possibly see a few seals. Unfortunately, weather kept deteriorating as we moved further down the road. We stopped the bus about 70 meters from the lighthouse and walked there with hopes of finding at least one seal. We knew our odds were quite slim since they don’t tend to show up during bad weather, but to our luck, we saw one! A lazy one though.
We saw hundreds of sheep too. It felt like we somehow invaded someone’s farm. Maybe we did? Anyways, as we reached the lighthouse the wind picked up speed considerably, to the point of feeling like we were in a storm. We joked about it and started to play with the wind by leaning our bodies against it, a la Michael Jackson.
And then it hit us, all of the sudden the sky broke the seal (figuratively, not the seal we saw on the ground!) and a massive shower of rain and hail fell on us. We ran madly towards the bus, zigzagging between the sheep to avoid running onto any of them. We also looked like a herd of sheep, all eight of us running chaotically, yet in unison.
We all arrived to the bus, completely soaked and freezing. No more sightseeing for us today. Did I mention this is the furthermost south I’ve been and that New Zealand is the 3rd closest country in Antarctica?! A bit further south and I could almost swim to it… joking!
Fast forward to a few days after, we were already in Fiordland and had regained our body heat from that freezing stormy weather in the Southland. We were heading to Gunn’s Camp, which is a log cabin site located in the solitude of the Hollyford Valley in the Fiorldland National Park. This was the remotest place we went with the bus, and we surely were off the beaten path.
Before heading to the cabin, we stopped along the road to see if it was possible to hike part of the Routeburn Track to the top of the mountain. We could, so the entire group decided to hike it.
I was a bit afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do the hike properly since it was snowy and I didn’t have proper winter clothing: just a pair of sneakers, jeans, and a few layers on the top. “What the heck… I’m here and it looks amazing,” so I went on with the hike.
Luckily, weather cooperated with us and stayed clear for most of the 3-hour hike roundtrip. We slowly hiked up the path, which uncovered bit by bit the marvelous view of the Hollyford Valley next to us. It was all-good, until we were about to reach the top. It was the Catlins all over again! This time instead, the clouds closed in on us with incredible speed. Everything around us became a blur, only to be intensified with the huge amount of snow that began to fell.
We reached the top, enjoyed the close range scenery that we were able to enjoy; which was based on a frozen pond, frozen river, and deep snow all around us. We began to freeze up there, so we immediately descended through the same path.
I ended the hike with my feet completely soaked, but at least I knew a fireplace would be waiting for me at Gunn’s Camp, just a few miles down the road.
The afternoon might have been snowy, but the night was pretty calm and clear. We ventured out again, but this time to see the famous glowing worms that can be found in a few places in New Zealand. Unlike in the famous Waitomo Caves, these glowing worms are outside in the forest and are just a few dozens – not thousands like in the caves. But still, it was nice to see a free “preview” of them, since I had plans of going to the caves once I headed to the north island.
They were, of course, beautiful; even in their dimmest presence.
The following day, to bring a magnificent close to our time in the Fiordland, we headed to the famous Milford Sound. We took a 2-hour cruise along the fjord to enjoy the waterfalls, the seals, the playful dolphins next to the cruise, and of course, the magnificent mountains towering from the water.
And luckily, we couldn’t have asked for better weather.
Thank you New Zealand!
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